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Shifty quality: Consumer Reports docks automakers with 'unique' shifters

Some cars even lost their Recommended status after this points adjustment.


Strange shifters might seem like innocuous novelties to some, but for Consumer Reports, they pose a risk.

Consumer Reports fired the first shots in a war on new types of automatic transmission shifters, which includes rotary dials, column-mounted stalks and other wonky designs. Their decision stems from the belief that these new designs can be counterintuitive and, at worst, dangerous, since they may not easily convey gear position.

"Consumer Reports believes so strongly that these types of shifters have the potential for harm that we are now deducting points from the Overall Score of any vehicle we determine has a shifter that is difficult to operate or that can be confused for other controls," the outlet wrote in a blog post.

The Chrysler 300 moved from a rocker-style shifter to this rotary knob, but its lack of fail-safes led Consumer Reports to still dock points.


CR will deduct additional points if a vehicle doesn't return to Park or employ the parking brake after turning the engine off or opening the driver's door with the engine running.

Dozens of vehicles have had their scores readjusted, and four cars even lost Consumer Reports' vaunted recommendation. Those vehicles are the Chrysler 300, Lexus CT 200h, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class. The Chrysler uses a rotary dial, the Mercs use column stalks and Lexus uses a shifter modeled after the Prius' unit.

CR pointed out that not every unique shifter design lends itself to trouble. In fact, it praised Ford's rotary shifter in the 2017 Fusion, which the outlet claims increases safety by implementing the fail-safes mentioned earlier. It also mentioned that Honda vehicles contain these fail-safes.

Last year, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recalled about 812,000 vehicles for an apparently confusing rocker-style shift lever, which always returned to a center position. It's already phased this design out of production, but it remedied the situation for current owners by implementing additional warnings and programming the transmission to keep the vehicle from moving in certain conditions.

Chrysler told Consumer Reports that it was reviewing its shifter strategy when pressed for comment.

To make room on the right side for the column shifter, Mercedes-Benz shifted the wiper controls to the turn signal stalk. For new owners, that could be confusing.